By Richard Tharp, Biologist
The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is often regarded as the most beautiful and colorful of all waterfowl species that inhabit Alabama. Once on that slippery slope to extinction, the wood duck, through protection and management, made a spectacular comeback. Wood ducks are abundant and are the second most harvested duck in Alabama. The wood duck continues to be one of the most sought after waterfowl species probably due to availability and the fact that it is excellent table fare. Since this duck is a specialized nester preferring to nest in tree cavities, population levels can somewhat be tied to the number of available nesting sites. Limited quantities of available nesting locations can be (and is) a population-limiting factor. This problem can be compounded by the forestry and agricultural industries removing den trees or growing tree species that don’t readily provide den sites.
It is no secret that wood ducks will readily use artificial nest sites. For these boxes to be effective, they must be maintained. Yearly maintenance will increase usage and nest productivity. Typically, wood ducks begin nesting in February, so maintenance should occur in December or January. A maintenance list should include:
- Check condition of nest box; make repairs as needed or replace with new box
- Remove old nesting material and resupply with 3 to 4 inches of wood shavings
- Check “duckling” ladder if nest box is made of metal, plastic or smooth wood
- Check condition of support post
- Check predator guard
- Cut back other trees, limbs or shrubs that would allow predator access around the guard
Another factor to consider when performing the annual check-up is the nest box location. Current recommendations are to locate nest structures in woodlands adjacent to water. Boxes located in open watered areas and those located close together can result in nest parasitism, also known as “dump nesting,” which is when more than one hen lays her clutch in the same box. The result in most cases is nest abandonment and failure. As time allows or as nest boxes are replaced, move them to the wooded areas along the water source.
Annual maintenance of nest boxes is necessary for this management tool to be effective. Nest boxes are but one component of ideal habitat, but they are sure to attract the eye of a searching female woodie. Enhance the wood duck population on your hunting area and across the state of Alabama by building, installing and maintaining wood duck nest boxes.